Isak Åkerlund is a former MullenLowe NOVA Award winner, who joined the judging panel for the 2021 awards. In this interview with GLITCH Magazine, Isak discusses the different perspectives and experiences being on both ends of the MullenLowe NOVA Awards experience.
What did it meant to you to have been awarded an Inaugural MullenLowe NOVA award when you were an undergrad?
It meant a lot to me to receive the MullenLowe NOVA award, completely unexpected and a very nice surprise. I received the inaugural award, and it was the first time it was ever given out.
It fell from the sky to me, so to speak.
I was deeply honoured and very surprised. It meant much more to receive this acknowledgement for my animation “The Art of Darkness” as I put my heart into that project and my work was driven by pure passion. In a sense the award felt more personal and made me extra proud and happy.
The award helped me a lot to get started with my own studio and professional career as a freelance designer. After being a student, it was extremely helpful to also receive some financial support with the help of the award’s cash prize. I was able to pay for necessary investments, like software licenses and equipment to get going in my professional career. I also received a lot of positive attention and valuable connections.
If you could go back to when you were an undergrad student, what piece of advice would you give yourself? And why?
That is an interesting question. I think I would have given me the advice to work a bit less. This may sound like a strange advice. But if you put it into context of how hard I worked the first couple of years in my creative career this advice from my older self might make more sense.
If you compare your professional career with a marathon, I started up in a tempo like I was running a sprint distance, 100 meters or so. And then you run into trouble after you have been trying to move at maximum speed for about two years. You need to rest. To say the least.
So, my advice if I would have met a younger version of myself, would be to aim for a better balance between hard work and recreation. It is when you take a break and relax you often get your best ideas and find your energy and inspiration again.
I am not sure I would have listened to my own advice if I would have met my older self when I was a student though… I would probably have kept on running past the older me in high speed. I guess that is what it is to be young, nothing is impossible. That feeling is a wonderful thing for a while. But you cannot outrun yourself, I have learnt this further down the road. It is a good thing to challenge yourself and push your own limits. But be kind to yourself also. Calm down. Relax. Aim to grow gradually and slowly, year by year. Like a fine bottle of wine. Continuously. It is part of life to learn from your mistakes and there is nothing wrong with that. That is how you develop.
How does it feel to have now experienced being on both sides of the panel, and how do you think your critique & opinion will diﬀer from those of other judges?
It has been a great pleasure to be a part of the judging panel. I have not been on that side of the table before, so it has been an interesting experience. It has been very rewarding to get this opportunity to reconnect to Central Saint Martins and the MullenLowe NOVA Awards. Above all it has been very inspiring and a lot of fun to see all the great work that the students have created.
I have experience form being a student at Central Saint Martins myself, but now I also have over 10 years of experience from design development projects that I have been involved in after graduation. I hope this experience has made my eyes sharper and my mind wider. I have tried to take this vision into my critique and opinions as a judge. But it is not for me to judge my own judging. I can only hope that my perspective and comments have been an asset for the jury panel.
I think the jury for this year has been extraordinary diverse with a lot of different competencies and backgrounds. I think this is the real strength in the jury panel that we have all these different perspectives and fields of expertise. The diversity has enriched the discussions and even though we might have different opinions and see different qualities in the projects we have reviewed, I think we have found common ground and agreed upon all projects that were shortlisted and now winners for this year’s MullenLowe NOVA Awards.
Is there something in particular that you’re more drawn to in today’s key fashion trends? If so, what?
Yes, I have been impressed and inspired by the number of projects that takes on very important subjects for the future of our planet.
I think it is a strong trend in fashion, art, and design at the moment to address issues of how we live and how we need to change our ways to create a sustainable future.
I have seen many projects exploring different aspects on how to design a more sustainable lifestyle. Nature itself seems to be a strong source of inspiration. I also think it is interesting to see different re-design and up-cycling fashion concepts that investigate materials and new expressions by reusing fabrics and clothing and offer an alternative to fast fashion.
I have also noticed the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. It has hit the fashion industry very hard, but I have also seen new creative ways and ideas that seem like a reaction to the isolation during periods of quarantine. I think everybody is longing to meet their loved ones without restrictions and be able to move freely again. I can see that longing and feeling as a strong trend also. To reconnect.
In your experience, are there suﬃcient opportunities available that support emerging creatives in establishing that recognition? What role do awards such as the MullenLowe NOVA Awards play in this and what alternatives are available to those not receiving awards.
I think there should be more opportunities for supporting emerging creatives to establish themselves after university. The more the merrier. The MullenLowe NOVA Award is one great example of how the creative industry can sponsor students to take the leap from school into a professional career. I hope the Awards can inspire other companies, organisations, and institutions to take initiatives like this and support great ideas and emerging talent. The GLITCH magazine is another example of good intentions to help new designers with a platform to show their work and highlight their unique expression and ideas.
The MullenLowe NOVA Award is open to all graduating students at Central Saint Martins, so everybody has a chance to win, but there are just a few that will be selected for an award. There are a lot of fantastic creative projects I have seen while judging that may not fall under the criteria for a MullenLowe NOVA Award. I hope these projects will get recognised for their qualities in other ways. That is why it is important that there are many alternatives and different initiatives for supporting graduates in the creative field. I hope we will see more and more efforts take care of the next generation of artists and designers in the future.
2021 MullenLowe NOVA Award Winners
Overall Winner: Nikoleta Chrysikou
‘BacTerra’ proposing the use of bacteria to create alternative ceramics that are self-fired and biologically glazed. By providing a making process where ceramic waste and living organisms are the main ingredients.
“Pottery is a universal craft that has endured for thousands of years. But while people have mastered this craft and optimised the material, its production method has remained relatively unchanged. It’s currently seeing a huge surge in popularity as a creative and harmless escape from the stresses of contemporary life. But if we unpick every aspect of ceramics, we identify quite a few problematic areas. One of them is the energy-consuming and carbon-heavy kiln-firing process. What if we could find alternative ways of creating ceramics: ceramics that don’t require kiln firing; ceramics made by living organisms and biological processes?”
MullenLowe NOVA Award Runner Up: Alice Turner
‘Carnerie’ is a “grow your own meat” device for around 10 to 20 years in the future. It’s controlled by an app, whereby the user is able to order cell capsules from local farms to grow different types of meat. By inserting two capsules into the machine, adding water and adjusting the settings, the user can grow various types of meat in one week.
This conceptual, speculative project is designed to help us visualise what this future scenario could be like, and whether it’s a future we would buy into. By exciting, shocking or even repulsing the viewer, it enables us to question our existing meat consumption habits and whether they need to change.
MullenLowe NOVA Award Runner Up: Lydia Hardcastle
This project began when Lydia successfully grew cress seeds in cotton wool during lockdown, and she wondered if she could incorporate this concept in a costume. After months of experimentation, Lydia found the perfect material and environment in which cress can thrive, and created a knitted garment and grew over 25,000 cress seeds in it. It was not only texturally beautiful, but the smell and wet feel of the cress and its roots was mesmerising. This became more than just a visual costume – it was a sensory experience. It began an astonishing journey for Lydia, where she started to understand the importance of nature to our mental health, and people’s in/accessibility to green spaces during lockdown.
Unilever #Unstereotype Award: Cheuk Laam Wong
Inspired by Buoyancy Force, Looop Can is an NGO project to provide a cleaning kit for washing reusable menstruation pads. This will reduce period poverty for refugees in water-scarce regions or asylum seekers in financial difficulties.
Almost 60% of female refugees suffer period-poverty problems as they spend their limited funds on food or nappies for their babies. A washing kit for reusable sanitary pads will benefit not only refugees but also people who have limited finances and insufficient education about menstrual-health management.
Creative Boom Conscious Award: Francesca Dalosio
‘Ulïètu’ is a collection of surface panels reflecting the traumatic effect of xylella fastidiosa, one of the most dangerous plant-pathogenic bacteria in the world. The bacteria dehydrate trees causing leaf scorch, wilt, die-back and ultimately plant death.
This project presents an intelligent and sustainable use for these wood chips, avoiding combustion and taking advantage of the material residual properties in large-scale contexts. This preserves what remains of the Apulian olive trees, giving them a second chance of life. ‘Ulïètu’ represents a traumatic loss but also a rebirth.
YourNOVA ‘People’s Choice’ Award: Jann Choy
Liǎn (脸) is an experimental mask that explores the relationship between our online personas and offline selves. The concept and design are heavily inspired by Chinese face-changing opera art and online avatars. It merges my cultural tradition with modern technology.
Liǎn responds to your real-time online emotions using code and soft robotics. Sentiment analysis, a form of machine learning or artificial intelligence, is performed on your online interactions. If you post, like or comment with something positive, it’ll return a positive score, inflating the part of the mask that represents a positive front. Conversely, if it’s negative, it’ll inflate the corresponding area.
Wearing this silicone mask displays the dichotomy between one’s real versus online facial expressions. The inflation changes the structure of the mask, creating an avant-garde form in line with the theatrical nature of online personalities. Liǎn doesn’t act as a criticism – rather, it’s an inquiry into our online manifestations.
This article was originally published on GLITCH Magazine